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Headphones

A new youth movement is energizing the high-end audio market

High-end audio may be mostly an old person’s game, but there's a new breed of entrepreneurs making great products.

There's no getting around it, the high-end audio demographic skews to baby boomers. They're the ones that mostly design, sell, and buy audiophile gear. That's why I'm happy to report there's a growing contingent of younger men and women making outstanding audio products attracting younger buyers.

While some young people inherit their parent's or older owner's businesses I'm more interested in young entrepreneurs who took the initiative and built their companies from the ground up.

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Left to right, U-Turn Audio's Robert Hertig, Ben Carter, Peter Maltzan (blue hat)

Ray Spears and Uncrate

All audiophile companies are small businesses and their products are mostly hand crafted. One big benefit for customers is they have greater access to the companies' owners and engineers than they do with giant corporations meaning more personalized product support. As a result, I'm hoping this will help these companies to better connect with younger audiophiles and music lovers than the established brands. 

These young people are the future of hi-fi.

U-Turn Audio

Ben Carter, Robert Hertig, and Peter Maltzan were in their early 20s in 2012 when they launched their U-Turn Audio turntable project on Kickstarter. It was a hit, and U Turn Audio is still the only company making truly affordable turntables in the US.

Hifiman

Dr. Fang Bian is 39 now, but I met him in 2006, just before he started making headphones under the Hifiman banner. Dr. Bian was the first to champion modern planar magnetic headphones.

Vinnie Rossi

Straight out of college Vinnie Rossi started working for Lucent Technology. He's just 39 now, and Rossi started Red Wine Audio when he was 24! He strives for even higher-fi with his namesake company.

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Hifman's Dr. Fang Bian

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Zu Audio

Sean Casey is 48, and his Zu Audio speakers blew my mind when I first heard them in 2006. I'm still in awe of Casey's design skills. The company is based in Ogden, UT, and speaker parts are mostly sourced from American companies.

Musicians Hearing Solutions

Dr. Julie Glick is 44 and her Musicians Hearing Solutions works not just with musicians, but also music industry professionals and audiophiles. She's an audiologist based in Beverly Hills, CA.

Audirvana

Audirvana founder Damien Plisson is 42, and his relatively affordable app can transform your computer into a high-end hi-fi music player. No wonder Audirvana has found wide acceptance with the computer audiophile cognoscenti.

Woo Audio

Jack Wu of Woo Audio is 39, and his NYC based company makes some of my all-time favorite tube headphone amplifiers.

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Musicians Hearing Solutions Dr. Julie Glick

Jeff Smith

Roon Labs

Roon Labs' Enno Vandermeer is 48, and his big idea is an app that looks at your music and finds photos, bios, reviews, lyrics, and concert dates, and makes connections between artists, composers, performers, conductors, and producers. Some of my younger audiophile friends are addicted to Roon.

Fern & Roby

Christopher Hildebrand started the company when he was 27, he's 43 now, and loves building not just audio products, but also furniture and other side projects in his Richmond, VA factory. He takes real pride in the craftsmanship that goes into every Fern & Roby product.

Modwright

Daniel Wright is 48, he founded Modwright in 2000 specializing in modifications to digital products. The mods were cost-effective, yet high quality alternatives for audio enthusiasts. Modwright still offers mods, but also a line of completely original electronics. Modwight is based in Amboy, WA.

Totaldac

Totaldac was founded by Vincent Brient in France not far from the Mont Saint-Michel, and the company's digital converters have received rave reviews all over the world. Totaldac has just started making speakers, Brient is 42.

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Zu Audio's Sean Casey

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Audeze

Audeze's Sankar Thiagasamudram is 41, and he has made some of my all-time favorite headphones. Audeze recently launched Mobius, its first 3D audio/gaming headphone that I'm sure will make its mark outside the audiophile scene.

ZMF Headphones

ZMF Headphones' Zach Mehrbach is 34, and he loves building things out of wood; his spectacularly finished 'phones sound as good as they look.

Wyred 4 Sound

EJ Sarmento started working for PS Audio when he was just 15, he's 33 now and his Wyred 4 Sound company makes a sizable range of highly regarded components. I hope to get one in for review later this year.

The future is bright

This is but a small sample of next wave audiophile companies that have already made their mark, and I hope to cover more in future blogs. The new "kids" on the block are challenging the old ways and connecting to younger generations of audiophiles and music lovers.